Peter Bills: Borthwick lacks in international class

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The Independent Online

If England really are about to start picking their 15 best players and then selecting their captain, then Steve Borthwick could be in severe trouble.

There never has been, nor ever will be, anything wrong with 'Borthers' heart. The man has one big enough for a whole pack of forwards.

At Bath and now Saracens, he was a player who was as honest as the day is long. Trouble is, Martin Johnson made the crass mistake of confusing honest toil with international class. 'Borthers' has bucket loads of the first commodity, much much less of the latter.

It has been a mystery to me for years why England sports teams have insisted on selecting a captain first. The end product was that so many teams took the sporting field, whether it be for rugby, cricket or whatever other sport, with an inferior leader.

In a perfect world, you get both commodities in the one person – a brilliant player AND a great leader, a natural inspirer of others and shrewd tactician. But few of us live in a perfect world. And even if a man enjoyed all those qualities, might not the searing pressures of captaincy begin to fray at the edges some of those other commodities that the man possesses?

In the old world, class was most often the final arbiter as to the choice of captain. In English cricket, the likes of Douglas Jardine, P.B.H. May and M.C. Cowdrey rose naturally to the top, just like cream. May's grandson, Chris Cowdrey of Kent, played just one Test for England – but as captain.

In more modern times, the qualities required for captaincy have, thankfully, been decided on a rather more extensive basis than simply where you went to school or University. Even so, I still greatly prefer the philosophy of the Australian cricket team. Down the years, they have always chosen their 11 best players and then selected a captain.

Perhaps, as in the case of Mike Brearley of England, that policy has cost them the services of an outstandingly bright, intuitive leader. Brearley was hardly a Test class cricket player but he was overwhelmingly a Test class captain, one of the shrewdest any England sports team has ever selected. So you pays your money and you takes your choice...............

Which brings us to the debate concerning Steve Borthwick's credentials as leader for another 6 Nations championship campaign. It seems increasingly clear to me that England have to invest in the young Northampton lock Courtney Laws, to discover whether he really is as promising as so many good judges of a player up at Northampton have been saying for some time.

You can gain an idea in the Guinness Premiership but international rugby is another world. Is Laws the real deal, able to make the step-up seamlessly, or is he another young hopeful who will be exposed on the highest stage?

Only by playing him will England find out. There are other contenders for the other second row slot, like Louis Deacon of Leicester, but I like the mix of young and old in Courtney Laws and Simon Shaw. Besides, who is proposing leaving Shaw out of any England side at present? As he gets closer to 40, the man seems to get better and better. If these two are the preferred choice of the England selectors - and they should be – then Borthwick cannot win a place. It would be nonsensical to go, as England did all last year, choosing him firstly as captain.

The two candidates in a very short field of likely replacements as leader are said to be Jonny Wilkinson and Lewis Moody. In my mind, you can reduce that field even further because I don't think England will select Wilkinson. He will make the bench but I suspect they will start with Toby Flood against Wales on February 6.

So that leaves Moody, a player with scant experience of captaincy. Does that matter? No. Does he have the attributes to lead from the front, to inspire others? Manifestly, yes. His play is inspirational, his courage exemplary and unquestioned.

These days, coaches so dominate professional rugby teams that the role of captain has been hugely dissipated anyway. After 40 minutes, they get a fresh set of instructions from their coaches in the dressing room. So you hardly need a tactical general of the brainpower of a Patton, Napoleon or Wellington.

Lewis Moody qualifies for the role on the three most important criteria. He fully merits his place in the starting line-up, he has much experience of the game and he is a player other, younger colleagues should look up to.

Enough said...